Thursday, June 30, 2011

Air Power in WW II Skirmish Gaming

WI 259
Today, I'm throwing out some ideas on how I would handle the occasional strafing and dive-bombing in a World War II skirmish game. As the teaser mentioned yesterday, I have some more conceptual food-for-thought kind of ideas as well, but I'll probably go into that later.

Right now, let's get to the mechanics of a limited air attack. This one should probably really have a random out-of-the-players' hands feel to it. Neil Smith recommended a random events table in his "Skirmish Envelope" article in WI 259 and I think this may be the right way to bring in air attacks into a skirmish game. The scenario designer/referee can certainly tweak the probabilities of having air support arrive as well as WHOSE air support arrives. Of course, there's such vagaries as misidentifying aircraft and troops on the ground by both parties, so there's a chance to throw in some friendly fire into the mix.

Frankly, I think all of the above concerns are big IFs and I suppose the designer can make them as simple, complicated, or random as desired. The most devious thing I could think would be to have a plane show up - doesn't matter whose side it is on - and make a random check (you might could weight the probability for one side or the other) for what section, gun team, or vehicle takes a pounding with bombs or rockets - and it might be worth clarifying a priority target list here as well. Simply use mortar or artillery templates for effects.

Offhand, I would recommend that a strafing attack simply require a tape measure, yard stick, or wooden dowel to be placed at the selected attack point and set across the table as desired. The kill zone could probably measure 2 or 3 inches on either side (giving a 4 - 6 inch swath of destruction), with a knockdown or pin zone of equal distance beyond. I guess 3 feet would be about the extent of the strafing run, but 2 feet might work as well; I think 12" seems a bit short, but I suppose it would be worth researching minimum strafing fields of fire before coming down against it.

Now I suppose if you decide on using the random ground attack method mentioned previously the referee could use scatter dice to determine the axis of the strafing run. This could certainly result in attacks on both sides.
To represent a strafing attack, I suppose you could use a scale model of a suitable aircraft. If we assume that 1 inch represents about 5 feet, then it's probably not too crazy to have the model suspended over the tabletop by 18" or 24" (90 or 120 feet altitude) - which seems close to treetop level. You could also put them in at an angle. I would say that attack/descent altitude be handled abstractly by ground fire - ie. the plane isn't actually 18" above them. Offhand, I'd say any AA weapons should treat strafing aircraft as medium or long range shots (and assuming they aren't surprised and can react).

Alternately, I think it might be kind of cool to make a silhouette out of card of foamcore and place it directly on the table. I think this even more appropriate if you are handling a bombing action. I'm taking a nod from the Combat Mission computer game here - whenever aircraft show up, you just see passing shadows - and there's always a chance of friendly fire.

All right, that's it for today. Next time around we'll take a look at some historical data on Luftwaffe air-to-ground attacks and see how that can play a role in scenario design.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Coming Up: Air Power in WW II Skirmish Gaming

OK, I know I said I would post next on artillery fire in WW II skirmish gaming, but I stumbled across some great data on German Air-to-Ground tactics compiled by the US Army (can't remember the source right now, although I think it was an armored division in the 3rd Army) and it has made me think of some tabletop gaming and modeling ideas that I have never considered before. I had some mechanic ideas already in mind, but these may give some scenario-building considerations and a nod towards aesthetics.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Out of the Blue - more on mortars in skirmish gaming

WI 259
This post is part of a series regarding combined arms in skirmish level games (primarily World War II and taking inspiration from Neil Smith's "Skirmish Envelope" article in Wargames Illustrated 259). This one in particular picks up from a guest post made by Neil Smith. You can follow the whole thing from his post or simply roll back a couple weeks.

I think Neil brings an important fact to light regarding mortar attacks - or more specifically, opening a combat encounter with a mortar attack. The falling rounds give little or no warning, giving them the advantage of ambush - ie. taking the targets by surprise. I'd also have to agree with Neil's suggestion that falling mortar rounds in the midst of an already-hot combat kind of loses some of its impact since the targets are already taking some sort of evasive action if possible.

I think this probably should translate into an increased chance to pin, suppress, or kill with the opening salvo (which might only be one round). Going beyond mortars here, I think the ambush concept of applying bonuses to initial attack rolls for any kind of fire ought to apply - and this thought is probably not a stranger to most rules systems.

Another point Neil mentioned is that for game purposes one side shouldn't be allowed to simply pound the other with mortar rounds right after another - ie. the targets should get a chance to act. I agree with this certainly. In an I-Go-You-Go game this can be done by simply requiring a check for suppressed figures to take some action (maybe at some reduced mobility). I kind of like how Arty Conliffe's Crossfire handles one-sided pounding - if the attacker can't achieve significant results (ie. suppression or kills), then the targets get a chance to do something besides take a shellacking.

Finally, I think skirmish games do benefit from interrupting actions - things that come under such names as opportunity fire or overwatch - and I believe mortars ought to get those kind of options. I think this mode of fire typically applies only to direct fire, but I can really see it working for a local mortar team, self-spotting or with a spotter.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Out of the Blue – mortar attacks on infantry (Neil Smith guest blog)

[This guest post by WI regular contributor Neil Smith is in response to some recent posts on combined arms in skirmish wargaming: here and here.]

WI 259
As Paul was kind enough to mention my Skirmish Envelope article in WI259, I thought I would respond with some thoughts of my own and jump into what I think is a fascinating thread, how to replicate skirmish combat in miniature. For the most part I agree with Paul’s assessment and as always I bow to his superior knowledge on rules and rules mechanisms, what I want to do though is get into the weeds on how to frame a mortar attack. So, without further ado...

I’ve never been under mortar fire, nor would I want to be. My reading of such an event tells me that to do so would be worse in some ways than coming under long-range artillery fire for a couple of reasons. First, a mortar attack comes with no warning, unless the target is close enough to hear the tell-tale “puff” of the round being expelled from the mortar tube. Otherwise, the first the target knows about a mortar attack is the detonation. The second reason is the sensation of being specifically targeted: the enemy firing the mortars must be close to know the location of the target if only approximately. Both of those add an element of terror to coming under mortar fire that doesn’t exist with the equally terrifying but more random lightning-strike quality of artillery fire. At least that is the assumption I operate under when considering how to replicate mortar fire on the table-top.

Mortar fire, depending on circumstances, creates two levels of reaction, voluntary and involuntary – the dominant circumstance is whether or not the mortar fire begins an attack, or is part of a broader enemy response to the presence of hostile troops. Assume it is the former event; your infantry are moving forward into enemy territory and a mortar round lands, what do they do? I suspect the normal reaction, around which most rules should be written, is to instinctively duck or seek some sort of safety. Hearing the round land would be enough to prompt that reaction; therefore, in the scale of a skirmish game, I suggest that every soldier on the receiving end takes some sort of instant evasive action and should be moved or repositioned accordingly, say within 50mm of their current position if cover is that close.

The conscious reaction follows on from the initial movement – will your soldier under mortar fire take an action or stay put? If the mortar round detonates within sight or is close enough for the soldier to reason that another round is on the way and has a good chance of landing close by, then the odds of staying put are quite high. I think it is quite reasonable, therefore, to demand that a figure within a 125mm radius of the detonation, or any figure with line of sight to the detonation to a distance of 250mm, requires a 6 on a d6 to take any action for the rest of that turn – figures in front of the detonation would probably be less consumed by fear, I think, so only those closer than 125mm would be affected beyond their instinctive reaction.

I would ignore the psychological reaction to mortar fire if the target infantry comes under fire as part of a larger assault on the grounds they probably already have bigger problems to deal with from direct fire.

As for the physical effect of a mortar round detonation, I think there is no way past using a template or a quick spin of the tape-measure from the point of explosion. For the sake of argument, I assume the round lands where the firer intends, although that does not necessarily result in any casualties within the blast radius. I would also halve the effects of mortars both psychological and physical in built-up areas or jungles/forests.

I think also because skirmish games are generally one-to-one for figure scale, the mortar should be on table and each model fires only one round/turn like any other single shot weapon. Mortar ammunition should also be severely restricted, maybe three rounds/scenario/mortar. Finally, in keeping with my Skirmish Envelope idea, once a mortar (or mortars in the case of more than one being present and allowed to fire in salvo) is fired, the initiative immediately transfers to the receiving side. Those measures would hopefully prevent the rules lawyers for laying down continuous mortar fire and operating unopposed for the rest of the turn.

Thank you Paul for letting me squeeze into the driving seat for a while. I’m already looking forward to your thoughts on the big guns.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

WW II Skirmish Gaming: Mortars

WI 259
In my last post I mentioned talking about my thoughts on bringing in the heavy guns (indirect/off-board artillery fire, naval gunnery, and air support), but it occurs to me that before I tackle that I should say a few things about the kind of localized firepower that might not seem quite as random or overwhelming to a platoon or so of infantry - at least if they are somewhat aware that their commander can access the firepower of an integral or attached heavy weapons platoon.

Battleground World War II offered templates for explosion bursts for grenades, small mortars, and larger weapons. Furthermore, it gave guidelines for calling in assorted patterns of fire - ie. how to lay down multiple rounds. These seemed pretty good ideas for how to handle grenades and mortar fire (on table or off). Now compare that to the blanket area templates used in Flames of War - which, by the way, seems quite appropriate for a game that represents multiple figures (sections, teams) on each base. Now, at some point I think a skirmish game crosses the line from individual rounds to the blanket effect, depending on the amount of firepower that ranges in. When is a good time to try for something that may be a bit more abstract that may still provide the same net effect as plotting numerous incoming HE rounds (and maybe save some time)?

For me, I think if I'm playing a game with multiple tubes - and especially if they are off-table - then I'd go with marking a center point on the table and doing a simple radius - something between 6" and 12". It's easy enough to mark the incoming rounds' total area of effect with dice, and then simply make attacks or suppression checks as desired. But what about the guys that might not have been hit by an individual round? Well, I don't think soldiers necessarily have to be within a spray of shrapnel to be effected by the very real danger surrounding them. Also, that's why I think pin/suppression should be a more likely result than outright wounds or death - and that's another point in favor in Arty Conliffe's Crossfire where destroying a unit (a stand equaled a squad) happens with a mix of shock and degrading fire; wiping out a stand on the first try might happen, but it is not likely without overwhelming force.

Now all that said, I'm still in favor of small burst radii from a limited number of on-table mortars. Even the best team won't lay down the area saturation provided by three or more tubes. There is a more immediate feel to close indirect support - and least on the tabletop where the players can all see the figures firing and moving.

Next time, we'll take a look at artillery effects and game mechanisms. I'll say this offhand - I don't think they should be limited to seeming like a really, really, big mortar attack.

[At right - the cover to Wargames Illustrated 259, which featured Neil Smith's "Skirmish Envelope," which inspired some thinking on recent topic of combined arms]

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Coming Up: World War II Skirmish Gaming With Combined Arms

WI 259
I'm working on a post or two regarding ideas on how to integrate combined arms into skirmish-level World War II gaming (ie. where opposing sides have no more than a platoon or so to put on the table). I'm not talking armor or company level heavy support, I'm talking high level assets and other branches of service (air, naval).

In the meantime, I would like to draw your attention to Neil Smith's "The Skirmish Envelope" from Wargames Illustrated 259.Neil brings some sample mechanics and scenario to the piece (British and German squads near a farmhouse, if I recall). What's more, he brings a philosophy of how randomness, isolation, and a break down of command & control can be used to tweak anyone's favorite rules. I'm drawing a lot of inspiration from the article and some historical accounts of how heavy firepower (even - especially - friendly fire) really made things difficult for the men on the ground.

Essentially, I think it all comes down to controlling what does not seem controllable from the grounds eye view - and how best to adopt such a feeling for players who are supposed to be limited to making decisions than only a platoon or section leader could make.

More later...